MTV News sent a team of reporters to Haiti to chronicle the recovery effort in the wake of January 12th devastating earthquake. We followed their journey via e-mails, tweets, BBMs and video. Reporter Suchin Pak sent us these recollections of her trip in advance of tonight's BET telethon, "SOS Saving Ourselves: Help for Haiti."
By Suchin Pak
When you're covering a disaster like a hurricane or an earthquake, it's not like walking in to cover a political race. There aren't tents set up for you with Internet hook-ups, no catering tables or hot meals. In a case like Haiti, the mission is on emergency relief, 24-7. The military, as accommodating as they were, had no plan to house, feed and support news crews — and rightfully so.
You land in the middle of a disaster and the last thing you want to do is burden the people on the ground who have real missions with limited resources. We got bottles of water where we could, we slept where there was room and as far as a hot meal ... well, you'd be surprised at how little you really need to get by. The U.S. Joint Task Force had set up a constant flight rotation of helicopters that picked up and dropped off tons of relief to and from Haiti. When we hopped aboard a helicopter to fly a relief mission, we had to find seats wherever we could, wedging ourselves between pallets filled with relief supplies. Traveling on those missions was an incredible feeling.
There was a constantly active runway between Guantanamo Bay and the USS Carl Vinson, one of our biggest aircraft carriers docked just miles from Haiti and Port-au-Prince airport. No helicopter left empty, filled either with personnel or relief aid.
In the days just after the earthquake there were three items that were getting out the fastest: water, medical supplies and Meals Ready to Eat packs (or MREs). Each MRE has enough calories to sustain a basic level of health for one soldier in combat for one day, but there is enough food to make two small meals. You can eat the food straight from the pack or you can heat it up in an "oven" pouch which is activated by adding water.
For someone who has never seen an MRE, it seemed like a pretty complicated set up, but you quickly realize that when you're hungry, eating chicken tortellini straight from a plastic bag is good enough ... don't ask me to heat it in that portable oven. In the first week alone, the U.S. Air Force dropped more than 55,000 pounds of water and MREs from helicopters to designated areas in Haiti. As we were waiting for our flight back to the aircraft carrier in Port-au-Prince, I met a Haitian driver and a translator with a French news crew in the airport. As I was opening an MRE for lunch, I realized that they probably hadn't eaten or had water for quite a while. When I asked if they were hungry, they were quick to say yes.
I gathered up all of the MREs we had collected over the days and tried to explain how to eat one properly. Our crew had been chasing these stories in town and I never got to really sit and have a conversation with someone living through this and it was the most honest glimpse into how overwhelming the challenge will be. "Relief" means nothing if we don't continue to deliver aid to Haiti.